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How Kazakhstanis Change Their Religious Views?

According to researchers, nearly every tenth Kazakhstani changes their religious views and about two per cent convert to another religion.


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22-year-old Kazakhstani Alena was raised in an Orthodox family, attended church, but when she was a teenager, she converted to Islam. As she said, her soul led her to this religion.

My grandmother used to pray and attend the church – I was inspired by that.  I was asking her to take me with her to the church and to teach me how to pray. I was 13 then. We had a big library at home and I saw four volumes of Arabian fairy tales “The thousand and one nights”. I was attracted by cover images and started to read them.

These fairy tales mentioned Allah many times and I wanted to learn about this. I started to read about it on the internet and I wasn’t always sure that what I read was right. Now I cannot tell if it was interest because I think it was my fate. One day I woke up and decided to attend a mosque. I put on a headscarf and a long skirt.

I didn’t know why I was going there, but I did it. And when I came there, I felt lost as the mosque was huge and I didn’t know what to do. A guard came to me and asked me, “Girl, what do you want?” I explained to him that I wanted to convert to Islam. He was shocked and called the imam. Imam was moved by my words and took me to the kids’ room where they studied the Arabic language.

An old man with a white beard was sitting in this room. He was a theologian. The imam left us alone. I told him my story, that my soul led me to Islam and that I want to know it. He suggested that I should study first as I needed to study the history of religions before converting to Islam. Thus, I started to attend the classes every day, and I introduced him to my mother.

For three years, Alena was interacting with the imam and studying the Islam. Also, she graduated from school and entered the university.

“From time to time, I lost myself because of the community I was in. It happened that in the first year of my university, I didn’t have anyone around me who would support me in my studying Islam, and then a girl from Afghanistan was placed into my room. She became my friend and sister,” the girl said.

See also: A Story of Two Kazakhs Who Adopted Orthodoxy and Protestantism

Everyones right

Kazakhstan in the first article of the constitution “proclaims itself as a democratic, secular, legal and social state whose highest values are a person, his life, rights, and freedoms.”  Articles 14 and 19 of the main law prohibit any discrimination based on religion or other signs and guarantee the freedom of conscience:

Article 14

  1. No one shall be subject to any discrimination for reasons of origin, social, property status, occupation, sex, race, nationality, language, attitude towards religion, convictions, place of residence or any other circumstances.

Article 19

1. Everyone shall have the right to determine and indicate or not indicate his national, party and religious affiliation.

Яхияхаджи Исмаилов. Photo: inform.kz

Similar principles, according to the head imam of mosque “Flower of the Supreme Being”, Yahiyahaji Ismailov, are written in the Quran. He noted that the Muslims co-existed peacefully with representatives of other religions living in their motherland since the days of Islam origin.

“If we look at the foundation, all religions come from God and there’s only one God. According to the Quran, there’s a succession from Abraham to Mohammad. We, Muslims, believe that Jesus, Abraham and Moses are all prophets of God, and we consider them brothers. The choice of religion is everyone’s right,” the imam said.

In 2017, the Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan held a research “Religious conversions in the post-secular society”. It covered 2,500 respondents from 14 regions of the country, as well as from Almaty and Nur-Sultan, with a selection based on gender, age, and ethnic background that represent the make-up of population.

According to the results, almost 12,5 per cent of Kazakhstanis search for and change their religious affiliations. However, less than 2 per cent convert to another religion.

However, according to the head of religious situation research department of the Centre for Religious Issue Studies of Nur-Sultan, LLP, Aleksandr Antippin, the picture can be different depending on the region.

“In western regions, conversion from Islam to Orthodoxy, i.e. from one religion to another, is a rare phenomenon. In other regions of the country, 10 to 60 per cent of the members of Christian Neo-protestant communities are Kazakh neophytes. Also, former Christians and Muslims that adopted new religion on their own, not from their parents, are the members of Krishna Conscience Society communities. However, today children of former neophytes take their family religion as traditional one,” Antippin said.

Moreover, according to the research, more Kazakhstanis choose their religion more consciously. Although, there are more those who choose religion based on their ethnic traditions. 

“If you are Russian, you’re an Orthodox, if you’re an Arab or Kazakh, you’re a Muslim, if you’re a German, you’re a Lutheran, and Europeans are associated with Catholics here. This is not so. […] During my service, I regularly meet people who are not Slavs, but who are interested in Christianity. I think it is a good picture of the main thesis in Christianity that God is love. It is for all and the church must be open to all, it must be above any racial/ethnic or other divisions,” priest Viktor Drozhnikov, cleric of the Cathedral of the Dormition of Nur-Sultan, said.

Виктор Дрожников. Фото из личного архива

The survey of Kazakhstanis shows that the immediate environment, i.e. relatives, friends, neighbours, have the most impact (47-63.7%) on the choice of religion. Study of special literature and online resources, as well as personal search for religion are on the second place.

Religious figures encourage conscious choice of religion, when a person comes to religion after a deep study. However, they noted that women often convert to their husband’s religion.

“The belief of the majority of those who adopted Islam for a husband, for example, is superficial. Few of them will be happy in their marriage based on ignorance and without unity in the main religious issues. When there’s no belief, there are superstitions; it’s a fact. The church cannot forbid such marriages, unfortunately. The freedom of choice is the main value. The maximum we can do is to persuade them by explaining the risks,” priest Viktor Drozhnikov, cleric of the Cathedral of the Dormition of Nur-Sultan, said.

Imam Yahiyahaji Ismailov also noted that Islam forbids forcing people into adopting any religion and calls for peace and tolerance.

“When people of other religions come to me to adopt Islam, I give them some timzule to think so that they make their choice consciously. If girls want to adopt Islam, I explain to them that our religion allows choosing a partner with any religion. One can never adopt a religion in favour of anyone or anything,” Ismailov said.


Данная статья была подготовлена в рамках проекта IWPR «Стабильность в Центральной Азии через открытый диалог».

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